The State Department is continuing to edit its website into a more Obama-centric story of the world.
As reported by The Heritage Foundation’s Jim Roberts, the State Department three months ago changed the format of one of its better products, the country-by-country Background Notes to a format allegedly more in tune with the times. The Background Notes have been used for decades by diplomats, researchers, educators, and students. They provide in-depth information in easily digestible form, covering history, economics, demographics, culture, politics, and much besides.
With little or no fanfare (one might say with little or no warning), they were replaced in May with so-called Fact Sheets focused exclusively on current U.S. policy—i.e., Obama Administration policy.
The decision was made by the Public Affairs Bureau after a random survey was conducted via state.gov, which automatically gathers information about visits to the website. A State Department official told The Heritage Foundation:
The Department continually works to keep pace with our increasingly digital world. As much of the information on the Background Notes series featured information available on other websites (which was not the case when Background Notes were first developed for print, 30 years ago), the Department updated the format to focus on areas in which it could provide unique information. These newly-formatted country fact sheets are more focused on aspects of U.S. relations with a particular country.
Keeping pace with the digital world is one thing. Indeed, it is an important and laudable goal. Changing the content on State’s website, however, is another. While the new format does indeed describe the current state of bilateral relations between the U.S. and the countries of the world, it does not reflect past relations and in no way contains the depth of information available in the well-written and detailed Background Notes of years past, now available only in archived form.
The old Background Notes are often many times longer and reflect the work and analysis of U.S. Foreign Service officers over many years. To make up for the discrepancy, the Fact Sheets are supplemented with a series of links to other government documents and websites as well as the CIA Factbook. These make for disjointed and cumbersome reading.
In the new Fact Sheets, the policies of the Obama Administration are front and center, as though the world started anew in 2009. For instance, notes Jim Roberts—a former State Department official who stumbled on the change in the process of his research—USAID programs, a top priority for Obama’s foreign policy, get high-profile treatment.
For example, on the South Africa page, the Obama Administration’s movement on the anti-AIDS front is prominent. “In 2010, Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton and South African Prime Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane signed a Partnership Framework, creating a five-year plan to tackle HIV/AIDS in South Africa through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR),” the site says.
Profiles for at least four other African countries tout PEPFAR without mentioning that it was started in 2004 under President George W. Bush.
Rewriting of official documents is a practice that has become quite a hallmark for the Obama Administration. As the busy beavers at State have revised only about one-third of the close to 200 country reports, it is time to call a moratorium.